To identify factors regulating neurogenesis and neuronal death in mammals and to determine the mechanisms by which these factors act, we have studied mouse olfactory epithelium using two different experimental paradigms: tissue culture of olfactory epithelium purified from mouse embryos; and ablation of the olfactory bulb in adult mice, a procedure that induces olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) death and neurogenesis in vivo. Studies of olfactory epithelium cultures have allowed us to characterize the cellular stages in olfactory neurogenesis and to identify factors regulating proliferation and differentiation of precursor cells in the ORN lineage. Studies of adult olfactory epithelium have enabled us to determine that all cell types in this lineage-proliferating neuronal precursors, immature ORNs and mature ORNs-undergo cell death following olfactory bulb ablation and that this death has characteristics of programmed cell death or apoptosis. In vitro studies have confirmed that neuronal cells of the olfactory epithelium undergo apoptotic death and have permitted identification of several polypeptide growth factors that promote survival of a fraction of ORNs. Using this information, we have begun to explore whether these factors, as well as genes known to play crucial roles in cell death in other systems, function to regulate apoptosis and neuronal regeneration in the adult olfactory epithelium following lesion-induced ORN death.